Mrs Dora Jordan was the foremost actress of her day and very much admired. She became the long-standing mistress of the Duke of Clarence, the future King William IV, with whom she lived for many years and had ten children. As well as performing in London, she toured the provinces extensively, making several visits to Kent, where she appeared at theatres including Canterbury, Margate, Ramsgate, Deal and Dover. Starting her career in Ireland at the age of 15, Dora toured Yorkshire, before taking London by storm with her performance of Peggy in The Country Girl at Drury Lane Theatre in 1785.1 Known for her comedy performances, Dora was soon being talked about in the provinces, and theatre prints of her as Miss Lucy in Henry Fielding’s farce The Virgin Unmasked were produced and sold by Kentish Gazette and Canterbury printers Simmons and Kirkby, in 1791. 2

On the Kent coast, the proprietors of the Theatre Royal Margate, Messrs Grubb, Shaw and Wells, keen to attract celebrated performers from the London theatres, engaged Mrs Jordan for six nights in August 1797 for £300, raising ticket prices to defray this “extraordinary expense.”3 It was indeed an extraordinary amount; Dora had earned £4 a week for her first London performance twelve years earlier. She opened on Wednesday 30th August with her celebrated performance of Peggy, which had been described as “so powerful – every girlish trick so minutely and naturally delineated, that we pronounce the performance to be HER chef d’oeuvre, and assuredly the boast of modern acting.”4

Dora continued the run at Margate that year with a performance of Amanthis in The Child of Nature, and Little Pickle, in the popular farce The Spoiled Child 5 singing “I am a brisk and sprightly lad” with 'an archness never to be forgotten'.6 It was in this role that she had attracted the attention of the Duke of Clarence six years earlier, although he did not accompany her on any of her trips to Margate.7 Four years later, Dora reprised her performance of Amanthis at Margate 'playing for her brother who had put her under great embarrassments'.8 The theatre which could seat 700 brought in sizable revenues and the high fees she commanded helped pay off her brother George’s debts. The Duchess of Cumberland reserved 20 tickets and the Duchess of Devonshire asked for both stage boxes.9

This was followed by two nights at the Theatre Canterbury in which she performed Amanthis and Maria in the farce of The Citizen. Mrs Sarah Baker, an actress and theatre manager, born in Milton, near Sittingbourne, who established several of the counties grand theatres10 was obliged to 'inform the public, the price of admission on those nights to the Boxes, will be four shillings'.11 The theatre was packed, although it was reported in the press that 'the advance of the admission of the Pit was very displeasing to the public, and we trust for the credit of the manager it will never be attempted again'.12

On her return to Margate a year later, Dora continued to attract the crowds over an eight-night stay: 'The boxes were all taken, many days previous; and the anxiety of the residents to gain admittance was so great, as to induce them to stand at the doors of the Theatre an hour before the usual time of opening the House'.13 Once again the wealthy visitors to the town filled the boxes – including the Duchess of Devonshire and her daughters Ladies Harriet and Caroline Cavendish. During the last scene of a performance of The Country Girl, Dora was nearly burned alive when her dress caught fire on stage; valiantly she continued in her petticoat. 14

In September 1804, Dora was back performing in Margate. The town had been quiet over the summer due to fears of invasion, but as the threat had subsided 'bathing rooms, promenades and masquerades are as well attended, as if neither Bonaparte nor his flotilla were in existence'.15 The theatre seats were full and the audience rapturously applauded as she performed the Widow Belmour in The Way to Keep Him an 'elegant and pleasant work of the venerable dramatist, Arthur Murphy'.16 Mrs Jordan was a crowd-pleaser and the theatre managers had been astute in inviting her back after the quiet summer. Dora’s fans hung around her lodgings waiting for a glimpse of the famous actress and she was often forced to slip around the back to avoid them.17 The theatre prints trade must have been doing a roaring business.

In 1811, the Duke, now under pressure from the royal family to marry, separated from Mrs Jordan but agreed to pay her a stipend on condition that she gave up performing on stage to raise their children. However, three years later she broke this agreement with the Duke when her son in law, Thomas Alsop, ran up debts and Dora felt compelled to help her daughter.18 In August, she toured Margate and Ramsgate, 'charming all around' with her performances of Widow Cheerly in The Soldier’s Daughter and Violante in The Wonder.19 She was clearly a determined woman. On one of her visits to Margate, her coach was held up by highwaymen near Sittingbourne and her manservant was knocked off his horse, but this did not deter her.20

In the following February, Dora toured Dover and Deal, giving performances of Widow Cheerly, Violante, Letitia Hardy, and Lady Teazel in Sheridan’s The School for Scandal. In the summer she gave 10 performances at Margate – these were to be her last.21 The Duke had withdrawn his support and Mrs Jordan moved to the continent where she was to die in 1816. As well as acting, Dora wrote plays and songs, which she performed on stage, as well as encouraging work by other female playwrights.

This article was published: 18 October 2020.


  1. Tomalin, C. Mrs Jordan's Profession. London: Viking, 1994. 

  2. Kentish Gazette, 1791. 

  3. Whyman, J. The Early Kentish Seaside. Alan Sutton, 1985. p. 303. 

  4. The country girl: A comedy. Altered from Wycherly, by David Garrick, Esq. Adapted for theatrical representation as performed at the Theatre-Royal. London: John Bell, 1791, 

  5. Kentish Gazette, Friday 01 September, 1797. 

  6. 'Memoir of the celebrated Mrs Jordan'.The Weekly review and dramatic critic; Edinburgh Iss. 12, (May 13, 1853): 145-151. 

  7. Tomalin, C. Mrs Jordan's Profession. London: Viking, 1994. 

  8. Kentish Gazette Tuesday 01 September, 1801. 

  9. Tomalin, C. Mrs Jordan's Profession. London: Viking, 1994. p.184. 

  10. Baker, J. Sarah Baker and her Kentish Theatres 1737-1816: Challenging the Status Quo. 2020. 

  11. Kentish Gazette, 4 September, 1801. 

  12. Kentish Gazette, 4 September, 1801. 

  13. Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal Friday 10 September, 1802 

  14. Sun Tuesday 07 September 1802; Tomalin, C. Mrs Jordan's Profession. London: Viking, 1994. p.185. 

  15. Kentish Gazette, September, 1804. 

  16. Kentish Gazette, September, 1804. 

  17. Tomalin, C. Mrs Jordan's Profession. London: Viking, 1994. p.185. 

  18. Tomalin, C. Mrs Jordan's Profession. London: Viking, 1994. p.185. 

  19. London Courier and Evening Gazette Tuesday 16 August, 1814; Star Saturday 13 August, 1814. 

  20. Tomalin, C. Mrs Jordan's Profession. London: Viking, 1994. p.285. 

  21. Kentish Gazette, 1815; Morning Post Tuesday 14 February, 1815.